Future Forms

There are different ways to express future actions and states. The Future tenses primarily use 'will' or 'be going to', though there are other options. Here are the various ways to talk about the future, and a comparison amongst those ways.

Future forms are usually used to express either as Plans (or Intentions), or Predictions (or Expectations).

Plans are what we want to happen that is (at least to an extent) within our power to bring about.  They are the situations we will to bring about, ‘will’ here meaning attempt to bring something about through our willpower.  It’s no coincidence that this definition and usage of ‘will’ shares its form with the modal ‘will’.

Predictions are what we think will happen, often independent of our own desires or actions.  They might be default situations that would happen unless someone interferes, or perhaps things we do ourselves as if we have little choice in the matter.

The form of a verb string is often dependent upon whether the future event or situation is a Plan or a Prediction.  See the two parallel lists below for all the options.  They are arranged in order of certainty with near 100% certainty at the top and forms with more doubtful applications at the bottom.

PLANS

in order of decreasing certainty

PREDICTIONS

in order of decreasing certainty

Present Simple

for schedules/appointments

(She has a dentist appointment at 1:30.)

Present Simple

for schedules/appointments

(Christmas is on December 25th.)

Present Continuous

for plans with other people

(We are watching a film after dinner.)

'Will'*

when the plan is made suddenly

([ding-dong]  “I‘ll get it.”)

'Be Going To'*

when the prediction is made suddenly

(“Oh no, the chandelier is going to fall!”)

also: ‘Be About To’

'Be Going To'*

for general plans

(I‘m going to apply for a new job soon.)

also: ‘Be About To’

'Will'*

for general predictions

(Manchester United will win the World Cup.)

'Be Planning On'
'Be Thinking About'
'Be Hoping To'

etc.

'Be Likely To'
'Be Expected To'

etc.

'May' / 'Could'

when uncertain

(I may go to the store later.)

'Might' / 'Could'

when uncertain

(It might rain tomorrow.)

PREDICTIONS

in order of decreasing certainty

Present Simple

for schedules/appointments

(Christmas is on December 25th.)

'Be Going To'*

when the prediction is made suddenly

(“Oh no, the chandelier is going to fall!”)

also: ‘Be About To’

'Will'*

for general predictions

(Manchester United will win the World Cup.)

'Be Likely To'
'Be Expected To'

etc.

'Might' / 'Could'

when uncertain

(It might rain tomorrow.)

* ‘Will’ and ‘be going to’ are shown in some textbooks as having the distinctions depicted above.  However, in practice there is much overlap between these two, and they are largely interchangeable.  In many cases, it does not matter which of these two you use.  However, they do have different implications, and there are times when one is better than the other.  So the question is: what’s the difference?

Visit our Will vs. Be Going To topic page to learn more.

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Progressive / Continuous

The "be ___ing" form is used to indicate activity and can express unfinished actions around the stated time (even if not in that precise moment). It's not a far lead to use it for the near future as well.
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Future-in-the-Past

Take a look at what happens when Plans and Predictions fail to come true.
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